TINERHIR is largely a base for the trip up into the Todra Gorge – but it is also a much more interesting place than other administrative centres along this route. It is over-looked by a ruinous but ornamental Glaoui Kasbah, and just east of the modern town is an extensive palmery, which feels a world apart, with its groups of ksour built at intervals into the rocky hills above. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to catch the first lorry up to the Todra Gorge the Tinerhir and, to the northeast, the Todra palmeries -are major attractions in themselves.
The palmeries seem all the more special after the journey from Boumalne : a bleak drive across desolate plains, interrupted by the sudden oases of IMITER (with several fine Kasbahs) and TIMADRIOUINE. The Djebel Sarhro looms to the south for the latter part of the trip, dry barren outlines of mountains, like something from the Central Asia steppes; the drama of this part of the range was another big backdrop in David lean’s lawrence of Arabia.
South of Imiter, in the foothills of the Djebel Sahro, you will see from the Boumalne Tinerhir road the spoil and silver mines of the société Mêtallurgique d’Imiter (SMI). Outside interest is not encouraged and rumours abound locally about other mining enterprises, possibly including gold mining; as you enter Tinerhir, you pass alongside the SMI company houses, signposted Cité de personnel.
The Tinerhir and Todra palmeries
There are Palmeries to the southeast and northeast of Tinerhir, lining both sides of the Todra River. For an overview, the Hôtel Saghro has the town’s best viewing point. To explore, you’re best off renting a bike from Roger Mimo at the Hôtel Tomboctou, and discussing a route with him; our map was based upon his sketches. Alternatively, you could hire a mule – and arrange a guide -in one of the oasis villages.
The palmeries follow the usual pattern in these valleys : date palms at the edge, terraces of olive, pomegranate, almond and fruit trees further in, with grain and vegetable crops planted beneath them. The ksour (family compounds) each originally controlled one section of the oasis, and there were frequent disputes over territory and, above all, over access to the mountain streams for each ksour’s network of water channels. Even in this century, their fortifications were built in earnest, and, as Walter Harris wrote (melodramatically, but probably with little exaggeration): ” The whole life was one of warfare and gloom. Every tribe had its enemies, every family had its blood feuds, and every man his would-be murderer.”
Our map indicates several good viewing points, or miradors; don’t miss the length of road between Taorirt and Ichmarirne – which is breathtaking in the hour before sunset. The map also names the most picturesque villages – many of which have ksour and Kasbahs with extraordinarily complex patterns incised on the walls. Some include former Jewish quarters – mellahs -though today the populations are almost entirely Berber and Muslim, mainly from the AÏt Todra tribe north of Tinerhir and the AÏt Atta tribe to the south.
Southeast of Tinerhir there are potteries at El Harat, while at nearby Tagia are the tombs of the AÏt Atta’s chiefs, Hassou Ba Salam, and his son, Ali Ba Salam. there’sa marabout near El Harat which is the focus of a June / July moussem; this area was originally settled by black slaves who were known as Haratin. For more on the Todra palmery and the approach to the gorge see below.
The Todra Gorge
Whatever else you do in the south, spend at least a night in the Todra Gorge. You don’t need your own transport, nor any great expeditionary zeal to get up there, and yet it seems remote from the routes through the main valleys still and splendid in the fading evening light when the day visitors have gone.
The deepest, narrowest and most spectacular part of the gorge is only 15Km from Tinerhir, and there are three hotels where you can get a meal and stay the night. These can be reached by grand taxi or minibus from Tinerhir; they leave frequently and charge 6/8dh a place. Returning to Tinerhir, you stand a better chance of a taxi if you walk back to the Zaouîa Sidi Abdelâli, 3Km before the gorge, or hitch a lift with day visitors or other tourists.
Beyond the cluster of hotels, the road turns into a piste, providing an adventurous route right over the Atlas via the village of Imilchil (famed for its wedding market), as well as a possible loop over to the Dadés gorge. You can arrange transport along the Imilchil route, either by chartering it at Tinerhir, or by paying for a place on a series of Berber lorries, which shuttle across for village souks.If you plan to drive the route, you will need a suitable 4×4 vehicle.
Tinerhir to the gorge
En route to the gorge proper, the road climbs along the Todra palmery, a last, fertile shaft of land, narrowing at points to a ribbon of palms between the cliffs. There are more or less continuous villages, all of them the pink-grey colour of the local rock, and the ruins of Kasbahs and ksour up above or on the other side.
Around 9Km from Tinerhir, you cross a tributary of the Todra, and come to three campsites, flanking a particularly luxuriant stretch of the palmery. The first of these, camping Atlas, is the largest and best equipped, with a shop, restaurant and, across the road, the Auberge with simple rooms to rent. Next along are the well-shaded Camping de la source des poissons Sacrés, again also with rooms. The latter is set beside a pool known as la Source des poissons Sacrés, where women come to bathe (on three successive Fridays) as a cure for sterility.
Anywhere else, a stay in one of these campsites world bea major recommendation. But if time is at all limited, you might as well continue to the beginning of the gorge. If you’re on local transport, and it’s not too hot, you could get yourself set down here, have a snack and walk the final 6Km. The valley narrows to a thin strip of green on this final approach, until finally the surfaced road gives out and you arrive at a mini-gorge, leading into an amphitheatre of cliffs, prefacing the gorge proper – a wonderful sight, with canyon walls rising 300m on both sides.